AP Television Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — For a fourth-place network that hasn't been a threat to anyone but itself the past few years, NBC sure drew a lot of negative attention from its rivals when new fall prime-time schedules were revealed.
Maybe they're actually worried.
NBC's decision to air a Jay Leno comedy hour every weeknight at 10 o'clock overshadows anything else broadcasters are planning for the fall. It could be an ingenious move, or it could give CBS and ABC a better chance at establishing scripted shows in that hour and bury NBC deeper.
Jimmy Kimmel, speaking during ABC's presentation to advertisers, said that NBC wouldn't let Leno jump ship "even if they had to destroy their entire network." Dawn Ostroff, entertainment president of the tiny CW network, reminded advertisers that it had as much scripted programming as NBC.
CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves, as he often has, really knew how to stick the knife in.
"There's a difference between the (broadcast TV) model being broken," he said, "and not being able to find any new hit shows for years."
NBC is already warning that the Leno move can't be measured like most new fall shows, when two or three weeks make all the difference. Take into account what Leno does all year, particularly when the other networks are showing repeats, said NBC Universal chief executive Jeff Zucker. Because Leno's show will be much cheaper to produce than scripted dramas, it doesn't necessarily have to win in the ratings to be a financial hit.
"I understand why our opponents are saying what they are," Zucker said. "I get it. What about the chance that it might work?"
Leno may put on the quintessential "aw shucks" demeanor, but he doesn't deny the competitive challenge.
"That's what gives you the impetus to go out and do what you do," he told reporters. "To prove people wrong."
Finances played a big part in network decisions, like when NBC canceled "My Name is Earl" and CBS axed "The Unit" and "Without a Trace." They'd reached the point where executives considered them too expensive to produce. But a handful of creative trends emerged that may bear watching:
—The return of comedy: Broadcast television comedy has been on a slow decline, but NBC is in part selling the Leno move as counterprogramming to blood and guts dramas at 10 p.m. The network will air some prime-time "Weekend Update" segments with the idea that topical comedy is hot. ABC is starting a comedy night on Wednesdays and aired one of its pilots, "Modern Family," in full for advertisers. It's flat-out hilarious.
—Friday night lights: Broadcasters have gradually been dimming the lights on Friday, much as they have largely given up on Saturdays. With talked-about series like ABC's "Ugly Betty," NBC's "Southland" and Fox's "Dollhouse" on Friday next fall, there seems to be more of a competitive effort.
—Retreads: You may have seen these ideas before. ABC ("Eastwick") and NBC ("Parenthood") are turning movies into series. ABC's "V” remakes a 1980s era science fiction tale. CBS is spinning off "NCIS" and Fox is spinning off "Family Guy" for new series. The CW is making a new "Melrose Place," to join its remake of "90210." Oh, and it has a new series about vampires. Each of the four new comedies that ABC will air on Wednesdays features an actor who has already found fame on a sitcom: Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, Ed O'Neill and Courteney Cox. "Like clothing, there are really no new styles," said Shari Ann Brill, analyst for Carat USA. "It's a reinvention of something that was out previously."
—Meds: The retirement of "ER" caused networks to search for new heart-pounding, as opposed to heart-melting ("Grey's Anatomy") medical dramas. NBC's "Trauma" follows paramedics in San Francisco. CBS' midseason "Miami Trauma" follows paramedics in, you guessed it. CBS' "Three Rivers" is about organ donation.
—Cougars: Cox in "Cougar Town" is an older woman new to the dating scene. Jenna Elfman in CBS' "Accidentally on Purpose" picks up, and keeps, a much younger man.
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EDITOR'S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder(at)ap.org
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.